A House in Provence, Chapter 19

Our Yard and Bugs

There is so much that I want to do in the yard but can’t. First of all we have to wait for dirt to be brought in to fill in some low places. One of these areas is behind the pool where I want to do the majority of the planting with lots of bushes and trees, making it as lush as I can with plants that don’t need a lot of water. The area behind the pool is huge and in order not to have to work full time to keep the garden up, use less water and just generally make it look good, I have decided I need to put in some small walls here and there, maybe some trelleses, make some “walls” out of plants. That way there will be a large area we won’t see and can do the minimum with.
This being not only summer, but autumn, 2004, we just wait for the dirt. A man did come and dumped a huge pile of dirt and rocks across the road and told us he would be back in September to move it to our yard. The only problem is, we have to wait at least a year for all of the dirt to settle so I am afraid to try much of anything, not wanting my work to have to be done all over again if a bush or tree sinks a foot or so.
Maurice and I have been working in the area where we can which is below our house where we have been making steps out of dirt and rocks. One thing our property does not lack is rocks. They are everywhere in Provence. A lot of rocks were uncovered when our house was built and, to my surprise, we used them all up with our steps, the size I wanted anyway. I know they are under the dirt but I need some sort of tractor to get to them. There are some good sized rocks in the pile across the street and I have raided that. No one is living in the house below us and we have taken a wheel barrow down the steep road to get a few larger rocks. I don’t want to take a lot as they will probably need them for future landscaping and I feel like a thief when we do it. I’ve edged alot of paths with rocks and I am not sure where I will find my new supply.
I now notice all of the rock walls and edgings as we drive around our house into the country looking at how it has been done. Many walls have no cement or dirt, just the rocks themselves. I would love to watch how they are constructed.
I’ve noticed, also, that rocks from different areas, even those close by, are different colors. Our property has a lot of shale and some golden-white colored stones. Those delivered and dumped across the street come from Grambois, just a few miles down the road, and they are in shades of ochre and rust. I have found that shale easily falls apart and isn’t good to use if it is exposed to the air and rain. It chips all over the place.
Then there are bugs. I knew from my first experience on the property before we even started building that there would be many flies. Maurice and I had several big discussions, dare I say arguments, about flies, the source of which is the sheep farm up the road. He wants to leave the doors wide open for the fresh air which would be fine with me if the house didn’t become invaded by tons of flies. He thinks I want to live in a bubble, afraid to live as one with nature. That isn’t it at all. I really have a phobia about flies on my food and in my kitchen. He said, when he was brought up on a farm, they just accepted flies as a part of life and did fine. I finally did a google search on flies wondering if I was being a little paranoid and found that flies can carry over 15 diseases, some of them very serious such as typhoid. Once the air conditioning is needed doors have to stay closed so it isn’t as bad, but I am constantly killing flies in the house even so. I have had several French guests who left their windows open upstairs in the bedrooms and I walked into our kitchen to be greeted by a whole new group of flies to kill.
There aren’t as many mosquitoes, Provence being fairly dry, but there are those funny looking bugs that suck your blood, and also little flies shaped like little stealth bombers that lay their eggs under your skin, a yucky thing for me to contemplate.
Then there are the wasps. We didn’t see any of them in the Spring but they certainly arrived with the summer. At first I thought they were what I call “garbage bees” as they hang around garbage and, when eating outside, they come hovering about trying to pick up a piece of meat. I didn’t think they were that harmful, only very annoying, until Maurice’s son got bitten by one, followed by me. They only bite if you put your arm or leg on one. My, did it hurt, and I had a huge bump on my arm for about 5 days which itched and burned and woke me up in the middle of the night for several nights. We finally bought a bug zapper, one of those things that glow purple, but they only attract moths that I can see, the wasps being interested in food not light. Then we bought these little plastic covered bowls with a whole in the bottom. Filled with a beef broth, the wasps are attracted to the smell, go in the hole and then can’t get out. In an hour we trapped 7 of them. I would like to get rid of them at their source but, with our land being so large, I can’t track where they are going. I was told to be careful around my lavender plants as they often make nests near them in the ground. I have to go and cut off the flowers in September or so and will have to be vigilant to not get attacked.

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A House in Provence, Chapter 18

French Whirlwinds

The time I had dreaded came. It was the 10 days we were to take care of Maurice’s grandchildren at our house in Provence. They are fraternal twins named Tom and Lola and are age 7. And, of course, they only speak French. Usually I do very well with children, especially if they speak English, but I wasn’t as sure with these two. When I am at their home in Paris they are forced to kiss me and say Bonjour and after that pretty much ignore me. When they were much younger they would hold my hand as we walked down the street and do their French chattering. They have grown up in a world of adults with constant attention and they travel a great deal and I was just one more face among many and not a very interesting one at that. At least that was my feeling. Sometimes when they had a friend at their house I would get more attention as the friend would want to practice a few English words with me. I was the token American.
So, I wasn’t expecting much. But from the start at their arrival at our house they seemed happy to see me, friendly and open, interested in everything. I’m not sure where this came from but they became, to me, normal kids more easy to handle. Of course, I often had to take them to Maurice for translation saying, “Tell me what they are trying to tell me,” but we rubbed along pretty well.
Many French don’t like the really sweet desserts Americans do so I wasn’t sure what to bake wondering if things would remain uneaten. I made a good old batch of American brownies thinking I would eat the darn things myself if no one was interested. At first Lola sort of turned her nose up at them because they weren’t dark chocolate and ate some French cookies instead. Tom dived right in after the first bite and ate three with a glass of milk. The next day I walked over and the whole pan was empty. I ended up having to make a dessert of some sort, usually brownies, every day. Well actually, I didn’t have to but it was something I could do that they enjoyed that didn’t involve my speaking French.
Luckily we have a pool and the two spent most of every day in it swimming, jumping and floating on rafts just like my American grandkids. A little neighbor boy came over one day and they had a ball. They kept getting cold though as a breeze was blowing and dressed and undressed four times, alternating going down to a little area under a tree where they are building a fort of some sort or, unable to resist the blue water, jumping back in the pool.
Lola undressed right in front of this little boy. I started trying to remember when I was made to undress in private, getting that puritanical side of me deeply ingrained. Lola was totally unselfconscious, used to being naked in front of Tom and they still often took baths together. I wondered when that would stop. I imagined sometime around the age of puberty. The little boy was an only child and I noticed that he did get a good look at Lola but she didn’t care. Maurice told me this is just how they raise their young. I’m sure this is where the topless swimming starts as well. I still remember being horrified when we caught my daughter at about age 5 or so playing “doctor” with a little neighbor boy. We were sure this would lead to some kind of perversion or something. It is just interesting seeing the differences in how children are raised and what is instilled in them.
I don’t know if it is because Tom and Lola travel so much or because their parents travel alot and they are either left with relatives or a baby sitter or with just one parent but they are very good at entertaining themselves. They never beg to watch TV although they will sit and watch cartoons or a movie if we turn on the TV. They never say, “We’re bored,” as I have heard my grandkids or my kids growing up whining. I remember saying it to my mother as well. In their home in Paris they would often escape for hours at a time to play in their rooms. Here in Provence they just keep busy every minute. I never have to find something for them to do. I had bought to huge boxes of Crayons for them to use and I have never seen such huge looks of surprise and pleasure as when I gave each of them one. They colored for hours. They had brought a few small toys and sometimes quietly played in their room upstairs.
Of course they got into tiffs being normal children. If they sat together in the back seat one or the other of them would start touching the other or put their foot in the other’s lap. I usually separated them and ended up sitting in the back myself just to prevent minor scrimages. Basically, they seemed like really good friends with each other not needing time alone like I did when growing up with my sister. I have noticed if Lola gets tired and, although she doesn’t say it, maybe a little bored, that she starts picking on Tom. At first I didn’t notice that Tom was doing the same thing. He was more sneaky about it. Maurice didn’t do anything when they started fighting. He has major explosions becoming a drill sargent when they are eating wanting them to sit still, eat all of their food, just being really picky at all that is going on around eating but when they hit or kick each other he doesn’t do anything saying that they can learn to handle it on their own. I can’t stand doing that. Lola pushed Tom down some steps and then hit him in spite of my many “arretes” so I finally had a meltdown and spanked her. She looked at me with her big blue eyes full of tears and I felt like an ogre but Maurice said that now she would respect me and mind me when I said no. I think spanking wouldn’t be necessary if she would just stop when I said so. She has a very strong will, that girl.
I don’t know if they packed their own clothing or not but Tom only came with the pair of shoes he was wearing, hightop red tennis shoes now back in fashion, as well as a few summer clothes. Lola came with four pairs of shoes, all in hues of pink, a pair of flip flops, some walking sandals, some tennis shoes and a pair of slippers for bedtime, and four pairs of pajamas as well. She had all sorts of cute clothes that she wore with flair, a different outfit each day, and bought a plastic zip up container with many clips and rubber rings for her hair. She requested a different style every morning and I did brades, two loose pony tails on each side-but low, as requested- right behind each ear, or half pony tails. She was growing her bangs out and it drove me nuts when she ate with pieces of food ending up in her hair so I was constantly pinning them back. Tom was easy with a wash and go hair style and he also had some cute clothes which he wore with what I saw as style.
They both ate very well. I notice that alot of American children seem to have eating problems refusing to eat this or that. I’ve been with families where the child wasn’t required to eat vegetables or meat and only had bread and butter for the meal followed by ice cream for dessert. Some meals become real battlegrounds with the parents begging the kids to eat. Tom and Lola aren’t big on vegetables but will eat tomatoes and most kinds of potatoes. Their mother gives them vegetable soup, pureed, often to get them to eat them. If they like what is served, such as fish or steak, they eat very well. Lola loves cheese and saucisson and always has some goat cheese at the end of meals. Tom doesn’t like the smell of cheese and seldom touches it. They love fruit and consume large amounts of peaches and apricots for dessert. Lola must have her peaches peeled but Tom doesn’t care. About 4 PM they want a tea and this is when they have something sweet, such as my brownies, with milk. Breakfast is usually toast or crepes with jam and they require bowls, not glasses, of milk to dip them in like I used to do with Oreos. Their toast has to be cut into three pieces too, as I found out the first morning. They also use Nutrella on their toast, something made of hazel nuts but tasting like chocolate. It tastes pretty good but it is a really strange consistency clinging to spoons, plates, hands and faces with a stubborness of industrial glue.
So, I felt like I was doing fairly well with Maurice’s grandchildren when I got the bad news. Maurice has to go to a funeral out of town and I would be left with Tom and Lola, by myself, for hours. One thing I always said to Maurice was that he could never leave me alone with them. I just can’t understand most of what they say and they sure don’t understand my bad French or English. That which I feared had come upon me. It was a long 6 hours but, at the end, exhausted though I was, I think we did fairly well together. First I let them help me bake some brownies. The only problem with this was that they got to lick the bowl, not me.
Tom found a piece of tile left in our yard that wasn’t cleaned up after construction of our house and was very excited which got Lola excited too so I went out with them out into the yard and we became archeologists looking for pieces of tile and interesting rocks. I had found a couple of fossils in some hills nearby and showed them to the kids and then Lola found a similar one in our yard. I’ve always had an interest in rocks and fossils so we had a great time. Then I turned the hose on so they could wash their treasures, provided plastic sacks to keep them in and it was time for lunch. They did some swimming and then started getting a little restless so I did a horrible thing. I turned on the TV and let them watch cartoons for over an hour. I thought about teaching them a card game but thought it might to hard for me to explain and for them to understand. I survived-I need a T-shirt saying that.
The next morning we took them to a vide grenier, a sort of large flea market, that occur all over Provence in the summer. We found some junk, old toys that had been played with, and for less than 5 Euros they had something to play with that was new to them. Tom was especially impressed with the market loving looking through the junk.
Early one morning Maurice and I drove with the kids to a hill that can be seen from our house and from which, with binoculars, we can see our house nestled near our little village. At night from our back yard you can see headlights of cars as they go over the top of the hill and head down. We had gone once to locate the road and when we got out to walk to the top of a little hill I found some fossils, mostly the ones made by shells. It was intriguing, and a little creepy, to me to envision the entire valley covered with ocean water. There is only one place on this hill where I have found fossils and Tom and Lola had a ball finding their own. They both brought back big sacks of them. I’m not sure if they will be able to take them all with them in their suitcases, but maybe a few.
I found that housework multiplied when they came. Toys were all over the place, clothes left where they were removed to put on bathing suits and floors were crunchy with debris left over from snacks. I was sweeping the floor twice a day because I can’t stand to walk on a floor that is dirty but I gave up on our sliding glass door out to the pool. It is really heavy and hard to open and they had to put their hands on the glass to get it open. I love having clean windows especially when looking out at a view but it is hard work to keep them that way. I decided it wasn’t worth the energy of cleaning the door everyday and let it go until they left. I felt like all I did, besides referee fights, was cook and wash dishes. I couldn’t just open a can of ravioli like I used to with my kids for lunch. Grilled cheese sandwiches weren’t an option, so I was always making full meals like fish and rice or lasagna. The easiest thing I found to cook was spaghetti but I couldn’t fix that every day. They were too young to make their own meals and- this makes me mad- I was the one who ended up cooking all of the meals. Maurice did most of their breakfasts-big deal-but I was the designated cook the rest of the time.
Finally, the ten days were up and we drove the twins down to Cannes to stay with the next set of Grandparents. The house was tidy, the floor not sticky or crunchy, my windows were free of hand prints, I was cooking and cleaning less-peace reigned. But, you know what, I missed the little buggers. They had endeared themselves to me. I plan to have more activities available next summer as I’m sure we will be taking care of them again for a while in the summer. I also plan to find some new sources of fossils as that was so much fun for all of us. And, maybe, this time when I show up at their apartment in Paris I will get a more natural and loving welcome.

A House in Provence Chapter 17


It turns out that we have some pretty nice neighbors. Most of them I have met are French and our converstions are limited, at least on my part, as very few of them speak any English. This has inspired me to start making an effort to learn French again. Octave, a very sweet little man down the road, is always so curteous and friendly and we can only exchange the most cursory of sentences. He is retired from driving a truck and walks up and down roads around our neighborhood watering plants and checking swimming pools when the owners are out of town. He has done it for us a couple of times. He should be getting paid for doing this service but doesn’t accept money. We bought him back a bottle of Kaluha from Texas as a thank you. I’m not sure what he thought about it but he says he drinks it with sparkling water. I told him to add some milk and then he would have a White Russian.
Octave took Maurice up the hill on the other side of the small highway to meet an English couple and eventually I got to meet them as well. The husband is English, the wife Australian and they turned out to be a font of information having lived in the area for years. They had a fabulous old house that they had built on to with a yard all landscaped and lovely with a breathtaking view of the countryside including some nearby vineyards.
As we sat in their garden they told us of a horrible storm in a February a few years earlier when it rained, hailed, and snowed-18 inches overnight-all in one 24 hour period. There was also a collasal lightning strike that took out a power pole. From our yard they pointed out a bare area where an unlucky farmer had tried to burn weeds in a ditch on a hot summer day and the fire had gotten out of control consumming the trees on most of the surrounding hills. At the time the local fire fighters were all in Corsica fighting a huge fire there so men were brought in from the Loire Valley. They didn’t know the area well and got lost needing the help of the locals to do their work. Since then, a lot of work has been done to prevent the spread of fires as well as detailed maps should this happen again. This couple even had to be evacuated from their home, although no damage was done. I look around our property now and am glad the brush and trees are not close to our house.
I think we will meet alot more English and Americans through this couple as they tell us there is a great group that meets once a month. I’m sure that having a lot of friends easy to talk with will add to my enjoyment of the area. It was such a pleasure to have a meal with them and not to have to sit there mostly in silence while everyone else chatters on in French. I also hope to get lots of advice on plants for our yard. The English always seem to have such great gardens. I often watch gardening shows on a BBC television station that we get and love it. Of course, the plants can’t be the same here with the hot summers that we get.
There is a nice young couple above us who have turned out to be great. The man and Maurice have exchanged much useful information especially as we were both building our homes at the same time. We’ve been to their house for dinner and they’ve been to ours. They know a little English so can usually understand me when I say something in English and we all manage to have a good time together. They have a huge dog that they named Spike who has befriended us as well but he always jumps on us when he sees us which is difficult. He also left a souvenir of big paw prints in some unset cement in our driveway. Both of them work at a company an hour drive away from our village and I wonder how they stand it. It is not on a big four lane highway but a narrow two way road passing through several villages plugged with heavy traffic every morning and evening. Maurice thinks it will eventually get to them and they will sell their house. They recently had a baby boy and I enjoy seeing him and comparing him to my granddaughter born a week later in the States.
A house was being built below us when we were building ours. It was another young couple, the man French, the woman English. They had three young children. The house was almost completed but they never moved in. We have seen people coming to look at it and sometimes we see one of them at the house but we have never found out what happened. Maybe it turned out to be too much of a financial burden. Some have speculated that they are getting a divorce.
One day I was working out in the back yard when a man walked out onto the lower area of our property. He asked for permission to walk across it. It turned out the he and his wife were going to buy the house. He was Spanish, she was French and they both worked in Belgium. They bought the house as a vacation house where family can visit them in the summers and where they can retire one day.
The couple right across the street from us, the ones whose tree had a branch torn off by a truck coming to our place, have lived in their house for 30 years. They are normally very friendly, speak only French and have a huge yard with olive trees, fruit trees, and all sorts of vegetables growing. The woman is always telling Maurice about the weather and rain fall and if it is normal compared to other years. She should know. We’ve never been invited over but they always say hello. I have to say the yard looks a little trashy to me with lots of discarded items lying around and piles of various debris, like they never finish projects. I’m not the greatest housekeeper or yard worker, but I love seeing a clean yard. The couple above us cleaned out a lot of brush and weeds from their yard which was promptly thrown down their hill behind their house. They can’t see it but we can. It seems to be the custom here to make huge piles of woody debris and then let mother nature slowly take care of it. Later, they did burn it all which made me happy. Next year we will plant some fast growing trees to start obstructing various views and the bare hill behind their house will be one of them.
We invited Octave and his wife over for drinks one evening. I was in the house and suddenly saw someone walk by in the back yard. I don’t know why but most people here don’t come to the front door but go around the back. Anyway, it was Octave, his daughter and her husband and young son, but not his wife. If he ever said why she didn’t come, I didn’t catch it. We had a nice time and I enjoyed their company. A few days later we were walking down the road by Octave’s house and he invited us to see his backyard. It was very impressive with a great swimming pool with a cover that curved over the pool so you could swim in it and extend the time the pool could be used. He also had a well fed by a nearby spring which I looked at with envy, all sorts of trees, chickens used for eggs, and a vegetable plot. We sat and had drinks. His wife arrived and waved at us from the door and went inside. She never even came out to say hello. I thought this was strange and a little unfriendly. Maurice just said she was one of those people used to being by herself and was very isolated like one of those characters you read about in books. She isn’t even Provencal but Italian. She walks every day to a village about 5 miles away to play patunck with some ladies. We did invite them for dinner some time after that, but she turned us down. I’m trying not to take it personally. As I keep saying, it’s just different here.

A House in Provence Chapter 16

Exploring Provence

Provence is known for its many villages, vineyards and lavander. We have been doing a lot of exploring here, never out of places to visit. In the winter I find the whole area to be a little depressing as most of the villages are shut up tight, streets bare, shutters closed and just a few hardy souls out and about. The mistral is really cold and miserable when it blows in the winter and when I looked out the window and see the trees bending and swaying in it, I would rather stay home and putter around than get out in the wind chill. I don’t necessarily like towns crowded with tourists but there is a lot to be said for cheery villages basking in the sun with the streets lively with people looking around and tables full in front of every cafe and restaurant.
The nearest village to us is called Grambois. It, along with the little school in our village, was used for a delightful French film done some years ago. It is really fun to watch and see the changes that have occurred since its making. Grambois is on top of a hill, as many are here, and at the top can be found a little square where the mairie, a little church and a tabac. That’s about it but it does offer more than our own little village which has exactly nothing unless you count the mayor’s mother who sometimes sells the bounty of her son’s crops such as white asparagus or cherries. There is an type of gite, dormitory style for all of the hikers and bikers who come up this way which is something, I guess. We stayed there once when our house was being built and it is on the rustic side.
And there is a wonderful building in fading periwinkle and pink which was once an Auberge as a sign barely discernible attests slowly fading away on the side of the building. I saw a photo of it when it was open with ladies in long dresses sitting in front. I would love to see inside sometime. I’ve been told that someone does live there.
The next closest town is la Tour d’Aigues (aigues being provencal for water). Tour is tower in French and there was one here centuries ago but it is long gone replaced by a chateau. It is a beautiful thing, though ruined, built of glowing golden stone by an Italian architect who put lovely features such as little stars pressed into parts of the walls, graceful towers and windows, just a delightful surprise as you turn the corner into town and it awaits you. It is a hollow shell now due to a fire set during the revolution which reached all corners of France, even quiet little towns such as this. Inside, in the office to buy tickets for a tour, there is a print of the chateau in the 17th century and it was incredible with a curved roof on the central tower looking rather oriental to me. It was much larger than in now appears. It is amazing to me that all of these little kingdoms existed at one time with chateaux and rulers running them like small countries. And then they sank into decline which saved many of the villages from being developed in the horrible ways in the following years leaving narrow roads and various buildings on top of a hill giving Provence that special look that it has. I see wonderful doorways around the narrow streets here using pieces from the chateau to make interesting and historic entries. Concerts are done in the interior of the chateau in the summers where a little stage and seating has been set up. It was just such an occasion when we attended a jazz concert at night. The music was great but sitting there in the dark with the chateau silhouetted against the sky and then great lighting being done, lighting up various parts of the wall in red, lavender or gold, made it truly memorable occasion.
Ansouis is not too far from la Tour d’Aigues although you must drive through la Motte d’Aigues and Pepin d’Aigues to get there. A regal castle is at the top of this village with a royal flag flying if the owners are at home. The owners are actual decendants of a long past royal family, many of whom I assume were beheaded, as this is one village in France which does not celebrate Bastille Day on July 14th. There is a rather splendid little chapel behind the church, small and ancient with a colorful statue of Joan of Arc inside. Once I entered to find a little old man banging on a drum, his version of a hymn to God, I thought.
Cucuron lies not much further up the road. Maurice says this is a very strange name for a village as it is a name similar to an American calling someone “Dummy” or the like. The reason for the naming is lost somewhere is the distant past as far as I have been able to discover. We hadn’t actually gone into this village at first as the road just circled the base but one day we parked the car and started walking around the narrow village streets for a Christmas brocante and found it to be a really charming town. A very unique rectangle shaped pond from the 17th century sits in the town surrounded by ancient plane trees a wonderful site for markets and such with the shade provided. We discovered a little restaurant called l’Arbor du Mai and found that on the 3rd Saturday of May, a little procession is done in town to celebrate the deliverance from a plague (this sure seemed to happen a lot of ancient times). A large tree is cut down, carried on the shoulders of 20 or so young men with a little boy riding on top. The tree is then secured against the side of the church and a smaller tree is also tied to the side of the little cafe. It is really great when old traditions and beliefs are still celebrated. There are so many here that still surprise me being an old Protestant. I knew there were a lot of Saint’s days in the States but they seem to have many more here that are actually celebrated.
Everyone seems to have heard about Gordes, once a center for olive oil the production of which was lost when a severe winter destroyed all the trees, now it has become an art colony. Every single building there is built of stones and the streets are all covered in them. They must be on top of a bumper crop of rocks. It is fun to roam up and down the streets and there is an interesting underground portion to the city as well. The Germans once bombed the place during WWII as it was used by the Resistance to watch the movement of German troops. You see why when you are high up on a vantage point and can see for miles.
Just a few miles away lies Roussillon where Ochre was once mined, the dirt and hills in the surrounding area running from golden, to ochre, to rust in color. You can buy bags of the various colors to mix with paint or a special substance to paint your walls in tints to bring Roussillon to mind whenever you catch a glimpse of your wall later. The town itself is very picturesque and interesting to explore, full of fun tourists shops such as a wine shop with a deep cool cellar downstairs, an artist selling her wonderful paintings in a shop located in the same building she lives in. I love her little pocket garden glimpsed in the back of her shop and saw a painting of that same garden on her wall.
To the north of us, in the area of France called Haute Provence, is where the high quality lavender is planted. There aren’t miles and miles of this fragrant herb growing as you see with wheat or the like, but unexpected plots springing up here and there and it is great when the fragrance of it all enters the car as you drive past. Some plots are well tended as the lavender grows in rows with no weeds seen and gravel lying between each row. Some have all run together and weeds are everywhere. When I stopped once to take a photo I saw that a couple of plants had been totally denuded of their flowers and there were several holes in the ground where someone had helped themselves to a few plants. Big fat furry bees abound, along with colorful butterflies, in the fields where this herb grows. About the middle of July the stems holding the flowers are cut, usually by machine, but some by hand for tourists to take photos of. A few festivals are held with many lavender products being sold-soap, lotion, oil, dried bouquets and even several types of foods. We have some lavender growing in our yard and I ventured out amongst the bees and butterflies to cut my own bouquets. It is such a clean smell, a delight to the senses when you pass a group of those lavender stalks in vase on a table.
Another village, once a powerful kingdom, and a great surprise when we first visited it, is Forcalquier. As you approach it you see an impressive building on top of the hill, once a fortress, now a chapel. On Mondays, not the usual day ever in France, is a fabulous huge market, the largest I have ever seen. Lots of food can be found but mostly clothing, table clothes with place mats and napkins, and lots of soaps and other types of Provencal items. One couple selling olive oil products had a soap shaped into squares from somewhere in the Middle East. When I heard her mention, as she told us about it, eczema, I bought some for my son seeing if it would help him. Up the hill from the market are some nice streets and places to eat. Just a really nice village to visit.

How We Travel

It has been cold in Paris this week with snow. They locked up Palais Royal tighter than a drum as it was too icy and unsafe to walk in.

A closer look at Palais Royal park through the locked gate.

How We Travel

It is interesting to me to read various travel boards on the Internet and get a glimpse into the thinking of those who travel. There are those, even members of my family, who travel as little as possible and have no desire to see the world. It is almost like a recessive gene to have urge to see parts of the world you have only read or heard about. If you don’t have that travel gene, you don’t get it. I have had people say to me, “You are going traveling again? Don’t you get tired of it?” I never have, not even when the victim of Montezuma’s revenge in Mexico, getting a close up view of the inside of a toilet. I’ve even been back to Mexico many more times. I like the culture there and the warmth of the people.
There seem to be two sorts of travelers: those who want to see it all and who want to cram as much as possible into one short period of time and those who think that is a ridiculous way to travel. Americans, especially, seem to be accused of the “If this is Tuesday, it must be Belgium” mentality. Part of this is because, unlike many Europeans, Americans only have a limited vacation time. Two weeks for a vacation is a real luxury and Europeans with their six weeks or more of vacation time are looked at with envy. If you only have a week of time to travel and you have paid a large sum to get airline tickets with hotel reservations and happen to be in a place overseas that you feel is a once in a life-time event, such as France or Italy, you want to see as much as you can. You may never again get the chance to see Rome, Florence, Venice, Tuscany and Naples even if it is all in one seven day period.
More and more travelers have discovered, especially if traveling with children, that staying in apartments rather than hotels can be a real benefit in traveling, especially when the kids get up in the morning wanting their ceral, not a croissant and coffee. It can be great to come back to an apartment for a nap, cooking your own meals after shopping in a neighborhood street like a native. Of course, there isn’t anyone to wash the dishes or make the beds, and no room service. There is also the possibility that the apartment doesn’t look like the photo you saw on the website renting it and that two of you will be sleeping on a lumpy fold out couch bed and you may never figure out how to run the washing machine there. Apartment renting, never the less, is becoming more and more the norm for tourists.
There is a travel board that I read call Slow Travel. This is a different philosophy of travel. You don’t see how much you can pack into your time in a city or country but you stay in one place and really get to know it. You might make forays into the area but you savor your time there, slowly explore, let the country soak into your memory like a slowly developing photo.
I’ve done it both ways and, if I have the time, like the slow travel way of visiting a country. But, when I’m in a new place and only have one week there, I find myself feeling a little stressed, wildly reading the Internet, pouring over travel books, wanting to find out all that I can about where I am going. I don’t want to miss anything. I hate to get back, know I am proably never returning there, and then hearing about something fabulous that I missed. I know I will return not really “knowing” a place in the world, new to me, but I will still be happy that I got to see it.
There are traveler’s clubs whose goal is to see as many countries in the world as they can. By seeing a country, it doesn’t mean exploring it. Just landing in the airport or getting off in a port counts. And that is what you do, count. Everyone wants to have the longest list. I used to get this mentality about seeing as many States in the US that I could, going miles out of my way to cross the border so I could say that I had “been” there. I did this once when in Kentucky, ending up in a rather depressing corner of Indiana so I could say I had been there. There are many States I haven’t visited unlike my French husband who has visited every State but North and South Dakota. He traveled across America often camping out and getting more of a feel for each State than I’m sure I do when I blitz Europe.